Tom Oord, God in The Movies, and Experiencing The Love of God

My good friend Tom Oord made this crowdsourcing post on Facebook earlier this week, “Movie Fans: I need your help. In my current book, I'm making the argument that movies can help us feel God's loving presence. I'd like to list examples. What films have been the means by which you felt God's love?”

For the last 15 years or so, I’ve done an annual series of sermons called, “God in the Movies” in which I look at spiritual themes in popular movies.  So, yesterday I looked back over some of my notes, got a little too OCD, and wrote this response to Tom:

Here are some movies from our “God in the Movies” series that I have used to explain different aspects of God’s love:

1. “Arrival” – love and fear are literally incompatible in our minds. God’s love is what allows us to face our fears and anxieties.

2. “Lion” – there are lots of great themes in this film about adoption, the deep soul longing for “home” and the love of a father who has always been waiting at home. The final “homecoming” scene in the film is powerful and reminiscent of the loving father in Jesus’ parable of the Prodigal Son. 

3. “The Martian” – among other great themes, the value of a single human life (Mark Watney’s) is beautifully illustrated.  The effort of NASA to bring Mark “home” is reminiscent of God’s love as in the Lost Sheep and the Lost Coins from Luke 15.

4. “Selma” – MLK early in the movie (36:52 or so) shows how his faith played such a crucial part of his role as an activist.  The God whose love carries our burdens is beautifully illustrated. (“Things we were not designed to carry” to quote the movie).  The God who suffers with us is also illustrated with MLK’s conversation with Jimmie Lee Jackson’s father (“God was right there with Jimmie…”)

5. “Philomena” – While the film is mostly about forgiveness of others, one can also draw parallels of how God forgives us in spite of our stubbornness and selfishness.

6. “Le Miserable” – The first part of the film has one of the greatest scenes of grace when the Bishop sets Jean Valjean free. “Jean Valjean, my brother, you no longer belong to evil but to good. It is your soul that I buy back from you. I withdraw it from black thoughts and [sin], and I give it to God.”  Later in the film it is Jean Valjean’s relationship with his adopted daughter that shows the tender compassion of a loving father who sacrifices everything for her. “The LORD is like a father to his children, tender and compassionate to those who fear him.” (Psalm 103:13)

7. “Silver Linings Playbook” – The scene in which Pat defends Tiffany by saying “She’s not like that any more” is a beautiful example of how our self-identity shapes who we are.  Likewise, God shows his love to us by naming us – beloved, adopted – in an act of abundant grace.  The transformation in both of their lives through the grace and love of each other is powerful.

8. “Walk The Line” – Johnny Cash’s journey is in many ways a Prodigal Son journey. Johnny is able to discover grace, come to terms with his own brokenness and find healing. 

9. “The Book of Eli” – The closing scene of this movie is a powerful metaphor for the Mission of God.  Not only is it a great summary of Christian Spirituality – we come to a place of sanctuary, getting away from the brokenness and messed up world we live in to focus on allowing the Word of God to become incarnate in us. But we don’t stop there.  We aren’t content with being safe and comfortable. Like Solara, we go. Moreover, it is also a description of the love of God incarnate in Jesus: Jesus did not stay in comforts of Heaven with the Father but left and came to this broken and messed up world.  (A great illustration of the Kenosis section of Philippians 2)

10. “Slumdog Millionaire” -- Jamal represents a new life redeemed that we can hope for ourselves, and shows how an unrelenting love can conquer all. But the love story is more than a “boy meets girl” kind of story.  It is in the midst of the poverty of our lives that the unrelenting love of God shines through our everyday moments. This films show us that love (and truth and hope) shine through in the darkest of days and in places. Jamal is a kind of Christ figure – the final scene of film in which he waits for Malik at the train station and kisses the scar on her face is one of the most powerful scenes in any movie I have ever seen.  As he kisses her, there is a flashback of how she got the scar. It is an amazing picture of healing – the consequences of our hurt and pain are turned backward in the warm embrace of our beloved.  

11. “The Dark Knight” -- There is one aspect of this rendition of Batman that I think makes for a good Christ Figure: the closing scene of the movie in which Batman realizes what he must do in order for freedom and justice to reign in Gotham City again.  The Dark Knight has taken upon himself the hurt and brokenness of Gotham City. His reputation is of less importance to him than the freedom of Gotham City.  He is willing to lay down his life – his identity in order set the people free of the tyranny and chaos that has enslaved them.  Again, echoes of the kenosis passage of Philippians 2:.

12. “Little Miss Sunshine” – while a comedy, the narrative is really about how love enters in to other people’s worlds.  Especially messed up and broken people.  The funniest scene in the movie is when Olive does the dance that her grandfather taught her.  Yet it is, in a very odd way, a redemptive scene.  The grown ups enter in to this twisted, weird, dysfunctional world of Olive and dance with her -- and it doing so, they bring healing and redemption to the whole messed up road trip.  Of course, this is the Christ story – of God entering in to our awkward, dysfunctional world, being “with us” (dancing with us) and bringing healing.

13. “I am Legend” – Dr. Nevell is a great Christ Figure in this film -- He goes in to the city “the epicenter” and does not run away from the darkness. The HV virus does not affect him – yet he remains human (like Jesus who entered in to our world, but we say that he remained unaffected by sin), he begins his redemption of the dark seekers on his 30th birthday, blood becomes the instrument of redemption for the world, he is killed by those who he came to save, and his death is a way for him to live on, become “Legend” and save the world.  (The closing scene of the film is an amazing picture of  “A New Earth” – the redemption of humanity with the church being the center.)

14. “My Big Fat Greek Wedding” – The scene in which Tula is shocked that someone finds her beautiful.  Love is blind (it sees the beauty that other people have missed).  This is the story of Jesus’ life – as he wanders around Palestine he sees people who are diseased or unclean or outsiders and he sees them as beautiful people.  Even when he calls his first disciples – they are not the best and brightest but Jesus finds beauty in them and names it.

15. “The Shawshank Redemption” – Andy is a Christ figure who is wrongly accused.  But he provides redemption to every situation he encounters: to Red (giving him hope, parole, and money to get to Mexico), to the prisoners of Shawshank (they were still in prison but they now had hope, a future, and were humanized), and ultimately to himself in his escape from Shawshank. (He escapes and takes the warden’s dirty money and runs off to Mexico.) (BTW – the escape scene is one of the best movie clips ever with TONS of baptism symbolism). 

Dana Hicks